51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”
“To be or not to be”…isn’t that the great Shakespearean question? What does it mean to be? “Be” is the English languages most irregular verb…it’s a word of action…to be something or someone. It is a verb of existence or reality. I am in a car, I am in church, I will be grilling hamburgers tonight. It is also a verb that points to relationship. I am friends with…I am a member of this community…
This is something that has been incredibly important to me these past few weeks. Being in friendship, relationship, community…here, in our church, and in the generations of friends that came by the hospital, the house, the funeral home, and the funeral service.
Today I’d like to talk to you about being, specifically being in a friendship. Over the course of my life, I have been blessed with some wonderful friendships and great community like we have here at Fleming Road UCC.
I shared this at my mom’s funeral last week while officiating it. “Mom, like her father, my PePa, believed in people. She believed in me. That has shaped me in more ways than can ever be explained. It has led me to so many others throughout my life that have also believed in me. My friend John McKnight, the well known author, teacher, community organizer, and mentor to many of the folks who have helped shape our culture over the years, once shared with me and another friend that his entire life has been touched and surrounded by the presence of God. Why? Because he’s been in relationship with people that believed in him…and that gave evidence to God’s belief in him as God is ultimately all about relationship.
Mom exhibited the very nature of God. The power of relationship. She loved growing up in her community, has been blessed by community all of her life. Wherever she went, she built amazing friendships. So many people have invested in her over her life, the return on that investment has far outweighed anything that folks have put in!
Throughout my life, and even in so many ways the past few weeks, this investment in relationships was so evident.
That makes sense, you see, we were all created to be in loving friendships or relationships with each other. We were even created by a relational God. It says in Genesis 1:27, that God created us in his image. God’s image is one of relationship. God exists in perfect unity as a three-in-one God…God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Three distinct persons, but of one essence…God’s essence is relational and that relationship demonstrates perfect love. Out of that essence, that loving essence, God, the uncreated created us.
If that wasn’t enough, creating us…God gave us the gift of God’s self. God desires to simply be in relationship with us. Throughout history God has demonstrated God’s pursuit of us, rescuing humanity from itself. Humanity has sought to know God, yet we have often forgotten that God knows us and loves us.
When Moses was being called by God out of a burning bush to go and preach release to the Jews who were being held as slaves in Egypt, Moses sought to know God’s name, because in those days, to know someone’s name was to know who they were, to have them define, to be in relationship and to know them. Yet, when asked, God gave a peculiar answer:
God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ” 15 God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers–the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob–has sent me to you.’ “This is my name forever, the name you shall call me from generation to generation. (Exo 3:14-15 TNIV)
I am who I am. The verb used here in Hebrew is “to be”. God is. God is saying that he is wholly other and cannot be comprehended. Yet, he goes on to say something more. He is the God of our fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Moses knew that God interacted with all of those people. God is saying, in effect, I am a God of relationship. I cannot be comprehended, but I can be apprehended.
God with us. God with us in relationship. Ultimately that is displayed in God becoming one of us through Jesus. Jesus is completely God and is the exact representation of who God is, a God of relationship.
Our passage this morning is one of deep relationship. We are continuing the theme of Jesus being the bread of life. Jesus goes on to say that in order to have eternal life, or abundant life filled with meaning and purpose, a forever life, then we must consume Jesus’ body. Again, the word flesh is used, it’s very graphic. When some folks in the first or second century heard this reading from John after Jesus’ death, they actually thought Christ followers were espousing cannibalism!
Of course, that’s not true. It’s a metaphor that’s implying that we must consume Jesus, we must take Jesus in to the deepest parts of who we are, even the parts that are messy, our very bowels. We cannot change, grow, become self/others/or God aware without help. We need Jesus’ life to rise up within and outside of us, to take Jesus in.
Jesus goes on to say that we must remain in him, as he is remaining in us. This is a phrase that is referenced in others parts of John.
John 15:4 says this, “Remain (or abide) in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” Remain, or abide, live…Live in Christ. How do we do that? We are in Christ, he sustains all things. We simply have the pleasure of saying thank you by living in the imperative of remaining in him. Just like any relationship, we need to be with God and with each other in order to grow.
Friends, we cannot truly live as we were meant to live separated from Christ or from each other…to attempt to do so makes us less than human. We may not understand that completely, but our being our “I am” is found in the actions of Jesus. Jesus is the exact representation of God to us and he is our truly human representative in the presence of God as God in the flesh.
So friends, BE! Be in and with Christ, consume Christ! He is your identity…you are not defined ultimately by the color of your skin, how much (or how little) is in your bank account, what political party you identify with, or what you have done or not done…YOU are defined by Christ’s actions on your behalf! Your wealth in this life is defined by the relationships you have which is defined by your relationship with Christ! My truest friend has always been Jesus. He is really different, yet I find my identity in him because of his pursuit of me. Friends, as you live and find you identity in Christ, know that God wants to be with you and will not let you go!